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ICO still failing to collect fines as 74% of the value of fines remain unpaid

The ICO’s fine collection woes just seem to get worse and worse.

Last year, we reported that just 32% of the monetary value of ICO fines issued had been paid.
In this latest update, we can reveal that that figure has slumped to just 26%.

In the period from Jan 2020 to September 2021 the ICO has handed out 47 fines to companies that have broken the rules on spam or data protection.

Out of 47 fines in total, a modest 19 of them have been paid. Out of £7million fined, a mere £1.81 has been successfully collected.

These figures exclude the 2 massive GDPR penalties for British Airways (£20 million) and Marriott Hotels (£18.4 million) These companies have agreed to pay their fines in annual installments.

Fines issued between Jan 2020 and Sept 2021

Total fined  £7.00 million (excluding BA and Marriott Hotels)
Paid £1.81 million 25.9%
Unpaid £5.19 million 74.1%

Fines for SMS spam are the most likely to remain unpaid, with 82.4% of penalties yet to be collected.

Fines to home improvements companies are the least likely to be paid

The home improvements sector has received £1.6 million in fines since Jan 20, all of them for making irritating nuisance calls to unexpecting home owners.

Of that, a paltry £280,000 has actually been collected, or just 17% of the total owed.

By contrast charities had paid 100% of the fines issued.

Fines collection remains slow and cumbersome

Despite new regulations that make company directors personally responsible for paying fines issued to their companies, many are still simply refusing to pay.

A number of companies have appealed their fines but the appeals process is painfully slow and unwieldy. 

For example, Eldon Insurance, who were fined £60,000 for email spam in February 2019 still have an unresolved appeal on their case nearly 3 years later.

A total £1.1 million of ICO fines is currently under appeal.

Many of the debt recovery cases are dragging on for years with no sign of a resolution any time soon.

MyIML Ltd were fined £80,000 for making nuisance calls, trying to sell solar panels and other green energy equipment. The fine was handed out in January 2016 and the ICO is stating that recovery is still ongoing in September 2021, nearly 6 years later.

Despite the poor performance in debt collection, ICO Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who is leaving the role later this year, said:

“Our successes are testament to the hard work and expertise of the ICO’s staff, and the foundations of the modern ICO laid across the past five years.”

The solution might lie in smaller, not larger fines

The larger the fine the less likely it is to be paid.

Once a fine exceeds £100,000 it’s far more likely to go to appeal or just remain unpaid.
Smaller fines might stand a better chance of being collected, particularly for the arguably lesser crimes of email and bulk SMS or SMS API spam.

Some fines seem unduly harsh. EE for example were fined £100,000 for inadvertently breaking the rules on SMS spam.

They had sent a text to 2.5 million customers that combined a transactional SMS message with direct marketing, when they hadn’t obtained the correct opt-in for the marketing part of the message.

In their ruling, the ICO explicitly stated that  

“EE Limited did not deliberately set out to breach electronic marketing laws”. 

The SMS campaign generated no complaints at all.
It was simply a genuine bulk SMS campaign to existing customers.

Number of ICO fines is rising

After a 2 year dip in the number of fines issued in 2019 – 2020, fines are now clearly on the rise.

In the whole of 2020, just 16 fines were handed out. In 2020 there have been 31 fines up to September, with 3 month of the year to go.

Cold calling tops the most fined chart

Nuisance calls remain the most fined offence, with 72 fines in total since 2015.
They also attract the highest number of complaints by consumers.

The ICO has restated their determination to stamp it out.
Commenting on a £50,000 nuisance calls fine to Parkin Beacher Ltd, Andy Curry, ICO Head of Investigations, said:

“Cold calls are a common way of attempting to defraud people out of their pensions and we will take tough action where we find companies carrying out this kind of marketing.

Companies are responsible for knowing the law and following it. We have a range of powers and enforcement action which we can and will take on behalf of the public to put a stop to the activities of unscrupulous companies.”

Fine Type Number of ICO fines issued since 2015 (Total 201)
Calls 72
Data Breach 66
Email 24
SMS 39


Financial services dominate ICO fines

Financial services and claims management fines combined are responsible for more fines than any other sector.

Taken together, they account for 65 fines since 2015, or 32% of all fines issued.
The home improvement sector is also particularly poor, being responsible for 34 fines, all for nuisance calls.

author avatar
Henry Cazalet Managing Director
Co-founder and Director of The SMS Works, a low cost and powerful SMS API for developers. About Henry